Avoid Getting Grin Screwed By Properly Qualifying Your Prospects

In Don’t Be A Grin F**ker, Mark Suster describes a concept that the two of us have discussed at various Board meetings. Startups often expend...

In Don’t Be A Grin F**ker, Mark Suster describes a concept that the two of us have discussed at various Board meetings. Startups often expend significant resources attempting to coax a relationship out of someone who smiles and says all the right things, yet whose inactions are inconsistent with their alleged intentions.

Entrepreneurs who are self aware and have the Whole Package are less prone to being successfully grin screwed. However, even the most enlightened entrepreneur can unknowingly waste valuable time and energy pursuing non-qualified prospects. Thus, developing an ability to identify Grin F☺☺kers is a startup skill worth cultivating.

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Great Meeting Or Just A Good Lunch?

In fifteen years of executing and managing sales and business development, I never had a “bad” meeting with a prospect. Never has someone stood up and said, “John, this is the most ridiculous idea I have heard in years. Take your laptop and get the hell out of here.” Even though, no doubt, some people had these very thoughts, they never verbalized them. Instead, they smiled, nodded and feigned an interest in whatever I was hocking.

I was frequently frustrated when I asked one of my salespersons, “How did your call/meeting go?” Without exception, the response was, “Great.” I would then have to ask a number of questions to determine why the call or meeting was so “great.” Often, all I learned was that the prospect was, “a great guy.” This inability for otherwise intelligent and effective salespeople to differentiate between a pleasant social interaction and a substantive business meeting was continually disappointing.

One reason it is difficult to objectively evaluate the effectiveness of a particular conversation is due to the Bad Date effect. In many cases, when someone realizes that the person they are on a date with is not for them, they tend to do very little talking, a lot polite smiling all the while striving to end the date in an expedient and socially acceptable manner.

Consider a job interview in which it is clear within the first few minutes that the applicant does not have a prayer of being granted an offer. Most interviewers become more agreeable than normal to avoid extending the duration of the interaction and to emotionally compensate for the bad news they know will befall the applicant after the interview. Rather than probing about the applicant’s talents, interests and proclivities, such interviews are polite and circumspect and generally end with the parties drawing very different conclusions about each other’s future actions.

Entrepreneurs should Go For The No (GFTN) and determine a prospect’s intentions as quickly as possible. One way to know when you should continue to cultivate a relationship or when you should GFTN is to objectively assess the relative value of each of your interactions with a prospect.

What follows are clues by which you can attempt to cut through the bogus smiles of Grin F☺☺kers and quantify the true impact you had in a particular social interaction.

Active Participants – Did the prospects make meaningful contributions to the conversation that drove the deal closer to consummation?

    GFTN if you and your team did most of the talking, as the deal is probably no nearer to completion after the meeting than it was prior to it.

    Cultivate if the prospects proactively discuss potential next steps and/or volunteer to perform tasks that will advance the sales process.

Objections – People who do not care about your proposal will offer few objections. Buyers will challenge you with probing questions because they are engaged in defining a path to your collective success.

    GFTN if the prospect unconditionally exclaims with wonderment regarding your solution while sucking down free drinks.

    Cultivate if the prospect identifies challenges or obstacles that must be overcome to achieve your mutually desired outcome.

Pleasantries Ratio – Small talk describes the empty pleasantries that begin many professional conversations. Small talk can be an effective icebreaker. However, qualified prospects will not overly engage in such inconsequential dialog. 

    GFTN if the prospect repeatedly turns the conversation to non-business topics.

    Cultivate if the ratio of substantive topics to small talk skews in the direction of meaningful conversation.

Overtime – Qualified prospects will generally allocate adequate time when they are discussing something which they view as a near-term, high priority.

    GFTN if your prospect ends one or more discussions prematurely or repeatedly reschedules your conversations.

    Cultivate if the allotted time for a meeting ends and your prospect extends your discussion or immediately schedules a follow-up meeting.

Specificity – The more definitively your prospect discusses your solution and its implications, the more likely they are to implement it in the near-term.

    GFTN if your prospect repeatedly speaks in generalities with respect to potential implementation dates, budgetary availability, etc. 

    Cultivate if your prospect articulates the terms, dates and milestones associated with the acquisition and implementation of your solution.

Graphight Clarity

Graphight is a startup founded by Andy Wilson and John Slade which helps dealmakers better assess the quality of their business interactions. While the solution is more complex than simply evaluating the quality of a particular meeting, it does allow you to differentiate between a polite conversation and a meaningful interaction that has a high propensity of resulting in incremental business.

By Listening closely and deploying tools like Graphight (with whom I have no affiliation), you can wipe the smarmy smile off your Grin F☺☺kers’ faces by focusing your time and attention on cultivating qualified prospects that object, frown, and ask you hard questions. 

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John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara's Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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